Escaping the Napa Valley Crowds

Another frequently received email to asks: “How can I avoid the crowds when we visit the Napa Valley?” We have an easy answer for that one: go during the week, during the months of December to February. Of course that is not the answer travelers are looking for, so with this article we give it our best shot suggesting a few ways for avoiding crowds on the weekends or on the weekdays during high season.

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Napa Valley Travelers Beware – Harvest is near

The most exciting and rewarding time of the year in the Napa Valley wine country, and for that matter all of wine country, is harvest time, “the crush” as it is called. This is what every winemaker, vineyard manager, and winery owner awaits throughout the vineyard year. Everything at a winery is at a fever pitch and excitement fills the air. If you want to be part of this wonderful experience, plan for your “Harvest” wine country getaway now. This is the peak season for visitors in the Napa Valley, so book your reservations early.

Harvest begins in late August. We have not heard of any grapes being picked as yet, but very soon the sparkling wine grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will be ready for harvest. Mumm Napa is always one of the first to harvest and celebrate. In September, the harvest picks up pace and will most likely extend into late October. This year has seen another very mild summer, and unless there are several warm days ahead this should be a later than average harvest year.

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A Day in Rutherford’s Dust

This past week we had the good fortune to participate in the Rutherford Dust Society’s annual wine tasting “A Day in the Dust” at the historic Rubicon Estate Winery in the Napa Valley. It was a wonderful tasting followed by a gourmet luncheon in the historic barrel room, complete with a surprise visit from the man himself, owner of Rubicon Estate Francis Ford Coppola. We tasted 22 wines in two flights of eleven each. The wines were all 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends from the Rutherford AVA.

The renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff , who years ago branded the term “Dust,” said: “It takes Rutherford dust to grow great Cabernet.” Some people think that wines from this region have a unique soil characteristic that can be tasted in the wines. I have never been able to ascertain that taste, but what I do know about these wines is that they are wonderfully-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon wines to be enjoyed now, or to be aged in order to gain even further perfection.

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Which are the best Napa Valley Wineries to Visit

We frequently get emails from visitors to our Website, WineCountryGetaways, asking for advice. The most common email goes something like this: “We will be in San Francisco in September and want to spend two days in the Napa Valley. Can you please tell us which are the best wineries to visit in the Napa Valley?”

Instead of replying to their email with a list of wineries, we suggest they consider these planning guidelines.

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A few different things to do in the Napa Valley

Food & Wine Pairing
Take the food and wine tour at the Robert Sinskey Vineyards. This has always been a favorite spot of ours. Too bad they closed their picnic area to visitors. We used to love to sit on the patio area across from the vineyards enjoying the view and our lunch with a glass of the Sinskey Pinot Blanc. For visitors to wine country looking for something beyond the normal tasting room experience, try the tour at this winery. This tour starts at 11 am daily and leads visitors through the culinary gardens, the cellar and cave, ending with a seated food and wine pairing produced from the Robert Sinskey Vineyard Kitchen. These appetizers are enough to tide you over until dinner. The tour lasts 90 minutes and is by appointment only. The cost is $60 per person.

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Napa Valley – What’s Happening in Downtown Napa, Visitor Center Battle Brews

On a Wednesday morning we are off to the Napa Valley for a quick overnight stay in Napa. Traveling mid-week gives us the option of booking a hotel or B&B at the last minute in hopes of getting a great price. We have been yearning to try the Oenotri Restaurant in Napa, and directly across from Oenotri is the Avia Hotel. A quick check of the travel websites and we find that we can get a room at the Avia on Kayak for $151. That’s a great price, so we book the room and head on out.

We spend most of the day in the Napa Valley visiting and touring the Somerston Ranch off Sage Canyon Road and then a quick trip to the Clif Family Winery’s new tasting room, Vino Velo. We check into the hotel around 4 pm and begin exploring downtown Napa. We stroll the Town Center and have a look around. Boy, this place is void of people. We did find something the might become the “Battle of Visitor Centers.” The Legendary Napa Valley folks pulled up shop at the Town Center last month and moved the Visitor Center to the posh and chic Riverfront Properties. This created quite a stir for the Town Center because it took away much-needed visitor foot traffic. Now the owners of the Town Center are fighting back. They are remodeling the old visitor center and will open soon, according to the owner who I talked to as she was closing the door. “We will be back and better than ever” she says with great conviction. Stay tuned for the battle.

At Riverfront Properties the newly opened Visitor Center for the Napa Valley

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New Napa Valley Welcome Center – Action Packed

The Napa Valley Welcome Center just opened up shop in the Riverfront Properties in downtown Napa. Someone did it right at the Legendary Napa Valley, the organization that sponsors this center. It truly is a welcoming center and once you take a peek inside you just want to explore. We stopped in last Sunday morning and the center was alive with visitors and a helpful staff.

The office staff, mostly senior citizens that morning, seemed to be very much enjoying themselves and having fun with the visitors. One of the staff members, wearing a beret, introduced himself to me as George De La Tour. I said to him, “I have read much about you including your death many years ago.” Then he replied trying to play me again, “I was just kidding, I am really Mike Grgich (owner/winemaker of Grgich Hills Estate winery).” A happy staff is a good staff.

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Napa Valley Events Coming to Town

Napa County Non-Profits Host Second Annual Napa Valley 360 – April 1 to April 4

The four major nonprofit agencies throughout Napa County have launched Napa Valley 360, an online auction designed to bring one-of-a-kind Napa Valley experiences to top bidders. Funds raised for this auction will benefit the 8,300 Napa County community members who are supported by Family Service of Napa Valley, Calistoga Family Center, St. Helena Family Center and Cope Family Center.

Check the Website for a complete list of auction items. The items include several wine offerings, dining, travel packages, and more. If you work at it, you can probably find some amazing deals among all these offerings and, best of all, it is for a very worthy cause.

The auction can be viewed at and will run from Friday, April 1st at 8:00 am through Monday, April 4th at 5:00 pm.

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Calistoga – Really Getting Away in the Napa Valley

As spring approaches, we begin to think about a beautiful and peaceful wine country getaway. But if you choose the Napa area for your getaway, then things may not be as serene as you would like. The city of Napa now has a whole influx of new hotels and restaurants drawing tourists to the downtown area. Tyler Florence and Iron Chef Miyamoto have new restaurants packing in the crowds. Yountville is busy with its six Michelin-rated restaurants, fashionable shops, hotels and tasting rooms. Traffic squeezes as you approach St. Helena on Highway 29 and getting through St. Helena can be like a nightmare morning commute to work. But there is a quiet place in the Napa Valley much unchanged over time. That place is the historic town of Calistoga, at the very northern end of the Valley. It is here where you can find delightful things to do at a much slower pace.

Calistoga's Lincoln Avenue

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Mustard Festival Won’t Continue

This was to be the 18th annual Mustard Festival but the event is taking a “hiatus” as it states on the Mustard Festival website. I must admit the only event I ever participated in was the mustard photo contest. All the other official mustard events sounded like fun but they were way too expensive for my pocket book. Just because there is no official Mustard Festival this year, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the wild mustard and visiting the Napa Valley. You can always make up your own Mustard Festival activities. We love this time of the year and here are a few of our favorite mustard activities that will be easy on your budget.

Yount Mill Road
We love walking this trail especially in the morning before breakfast. But it is great at any time of the day. The mustard plant is spectacular along this quiet road where most of the traffic comes from walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. Start in Yountville and park your car on Yount Street where the Bardessono Hotel is located. Walk up Yount Street and turn to the right on Yount Mill Road. Plan on about 45 minutes of walking for an out and back experience.

View along Yount Mill Road - Mustard and Vaca Mountains

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